The journey is long. I started taking dance at the age of 3, started competitive dance with my studio at age 8 and was a part of a school dance team from middle school all the way through college. Needless to say, I never had time to play sports myself (except church league basketball) but the beauty of school dance teams is I got to do what I love most at the sporting events I loved too! There is truly no better feeling than cheering in front of 100,000+ fans in Bryant-Denny Stadium for The University of Alabama, wearing that script A and representing one of the best schools in the country!
While in college, my plan was to go into Sports Broadcasting, but I later figured out I wanted to be more behind the scenes. I interned for WJOX 94.5 sports radio in Birmingham then interned for 2 seasons with the Birmingham Barons in Media Relations. I also started teaching dance at my home studio, Jackie O’Neal School of Dance, and coaching the dance team at Spain Park High School. I actually ended up working for an attorney for 2 ½ years before landing my current role with the Barons and started coaching at UAB in 2016. I am now in my 4th season coaching the Blazers!
Never regret anything you go through in life. Learn from your mistakes, love your mistakes, because that is when you truly grow and become a better person. There are so many times when I’ve screwed up or not made the best decisions but I do not regret a single one of those because had those not happened, I would not be where I’m at today.
You are always capable of achieving your goals. For me working in the sports industry, women are definitely the minority but every single one of the women that work in our organization is incredibly smart, talented and absolutely kills it at their jobs!
Good things come to those who WORK HARD. Have faith in your journey and know that everything you go through, good or bad, will lead you to where you want to be. It’s crazy to see people want things in life but aren’t willing to do what it takes to get there. I have never understood that mindset of wanting things handed to you. That will only set you up for failure later on in life.
Spread kindness to those around you. I have always had a huge heart and love to see the good in people. Being positive in everything I do, in every situation, is what I strive for on a daily basis. Always be kind to people because you just never know what they have going on in their lives.
Don’t let adversity keep you from your goals. I have been a dancer since I could walk. That has always been a huge part of my life and always made me the happiest when I was on a stage, football field or basketball court. It’s been all I’ve ever wanted to do growing up. A dream of mine was to get to dance for The University of Alabama. My family has always been huge fans and supporters of this university and I was determined to be a part of this team. I tried out for my freshman year and made it all the way to the final round of the audition… then got cut. I was absolutely devastated! This dream of mine was just shattered in a matter of seconds. Dance was my life so trying to imagine not doing that after graduating high school was impossible.
That fall, I still attended The University of Alabama and had a blast during my freshman year. I joined the best sorority, met all kinds of new people and took dance classes through the dance department. Spring came around and I decided to audition again for the dance team. I just new this was something I still didn’t want to give up on. I will never forget that moment the coach turned around to the remaining 16 of us standing there (almost 90 girls auditioned) and said: “Alright ladies, here is your 2009-2010 team!” Never in my life have I had a feeling like I did in that moment. I cried, ran outside afterward only to find my mom standing there, waiting with a big hug, crying as well! When I graduated in 2012, I was the Senior captain of this nationally ranked team I had worked so hard to be a part of.
Love your flaws, own your mistakes and learn from your life experiences. I have been divorced for almost 4 years now and I truly believe that everyone has to go through something that absolutely destroys them so they can figure out who they really are. Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. That part of my life feels like so long ago now but I look back and I don’t regret a single thing that I went through because I would not be where I’m at today if I didn’t. It has taught me so much about myself and about life!
Grow through what you go through. There is only one short period of time that I would wish I could go back and do differently… When I was going through my divorce back in 2016, I also at the same time took a new job that was supposed to be a big career move for me and help me get back on my feet. BIGGEST MISTAKE OF MY LIFE! I was a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace from my boss. I became one of those women you always hear about this happening to but never thought it would happen to me. Looking back on that time, I felt so dumb. I kept brushing it off like it would just end on its own and never knew who to talk to about it because I felt like no one would believe me. The whole thing made me feel so belittled and small. To this day it angers me that I put myself in that situation. I remember I finally broke down in tears one day at the office because I couldn’t take it anymore. I confided in my Dad about it and then immediately starting looking for a new job, interviewed 4 days later and got the job 2 days later. God really knew what I needed and that was to get the heck out of there. I ended up working for some of the best people for the next 2 ½ years at my new job and they helped me get back to a normal mindset after all of that. Today, I am stronger than I’ve ever been and am determined to keep women feeling safe in their workplace.
You can have it all. I am an avid sports fan and always have been, so I just knew working in sports was where I wanted to be. I graduated college with a degree in Telecommunications, thinking I wanted to be in sports broadcasting. I interned for a sports radio network and then in the media relations department for the Birmingham Barons for 2 seasons, who I now currently work for. I knew I never wanted to give up the dance part of my life though, so I got into teaching and coaching along with trying to pursue a career. I have the best of both worlds now working for a professional baseball team AND coaching a collegiate dance team. I’m around sports all year long and doing what I love most!
Timing is everything. Graduating college and trying to get a job in the real world is scary and intimidating. So interesting fact, I was turned down for a few jobs I really wanted, including the one I have now! After my internship ended, I applied and interviewed to work full time for the Barons. I didn’t get the job. Fast forward a few years to fall of 2018, I get an email from a friend of mine who still worked here saying a position opened up and wanted to talk to me about it. I am now in season 2 with the team and as of this past off season, I have two different job roles within the organization. It is scary to start your career, and even scarier when you run into bumps along the way, but NEVER give up.
Keep pushing yourself to get where you want to be. I have learned so much about myself the past few years but man I can’t wait to see where I’m at in about 3-5 years. There are so many things I want to accomplish and goals I have for myself. It’s crazy to look back and go “WOW! Look how far I’ve come from that point in my life.”
We all go through personal struggles. Not being good enough in my job and in my personal life. I struggle with this pretty often. Working in the sports industry too is one of the most fun jobs there is but it is also one of the toughest, especially for women. There is always this fear that you aren’t one of the guys so proving yourself is even more difficult. We work every day to earn the same respect in a work field that is pretty male dominant.
Never be afraid to go for it. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to never give up. You won’t always win 1st place, be picked for the best part or accomplish something within a week of learning it but it’s about growing as a dancer and person along the way. I have no patience for people who want everything but aren’t willing to do the work to get there. I see so many kids get frustrated or defeated then want to give up and quit trying. A true competitor doesn’t do it until they get it right, they do it until they can’t get it wrong!
Never forget what you bring to the table. I think women are so smart, work incredibly hard and we bring so much to the table. Because I am the only female in our Sales Department, I joke with my colleagues that they definitely need a woman’s touch on things to keep us going 😊 We just have a different perspective sometimes and bring this vibe to the sports industry that is helping it grow tremendously. I am so proud to represent women in, not just Baseball, but in the sports world. I can’t wait to see where we are inthe future!
Abby Southerland is from Birmingham, Alabama. She is Director of Premium Hospitality and a Group Sales Manager for the White Sox Double-A affiliate club, the Birmingham Barons. She is also in her 4th year as head coach for the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s dance team, the Golden Girls AND a teacher/choreographer at Jackie O’Neal School of Dance, currently in her 7th year of teaching almost 100 kids every week!